The doorman, an ex-military type I’ll appreciate more after we’re inside, scans my various cuts and bruises and doesn’t warm to us.

The attendant makes a phone call, reading off our IDs, before he finally thaws and greets me with a “Welcome home, Mr. Wade and company. Can I take your bags?”

“Yes, please,” Gia gushes, smiling at him, and for the first time, the man seems to soften a bit. I let her accept our ticket.

“Gorgeous,” Gia murmurs as we enter the fancy, Vegas-style modern lobby, with marble floors and low-hanging oversized lighting, as well as a lobby desk I intend to visit on my own.

“The security outperforms the decor,” I promise her, my hand again finding its way to the small of her back, as I pause us a few feet away from the counter and hand Gia back her ID, which I accepted from the attendant. “Show them this when they ask for it. You’re my girlfriend, Ashley, who lives with me.” She starts to look at the ID and I say, “Don’t. Slip it in your new purse.”

“Ashley,” she repeats, doing as I’ve ordered. “No more Gia.”

“Gia’s a rare name,” Jared comments, strands of his long light brown hair draped around his face where they’ve escaped their confines. “It’s not one you can keep without notice.”

“It was my mother’s name.”

There’s a sadness in her that I understand, and wish I didn’t. “Which makes it all the more dangerous right now,” I reply.

“Took the words right out of my mouth,” Jared agrees. “I’ll keep an eye on the front while you get the keys.”

Pleased to have an extra set of eyes, I lace my fingers with Gia’s as we step to the counter.

“Our rental agent should have left us a key,” I say, sliding my identification onto the counter.

Noting his curious inspection of the various facial injuries that I don’t intend to explain, Gia laughs and says, “He looks horrible, doesn’t he? That’s what he gets for refusing to do the dishes.”

The attendant, an older, distinguished-looking black man, frowns while I laughingly insert, “It was a bar brawl. You should see the other guy.”

She nudges me. “Stop it. It was a car accident. Sorry. We’ve just gotten so many looks, and we’re a little giddy from travel.”

The man starts laughing. “Oh, well, I hope everyone was okay.”

“Everyone was fine, or we wouldn’t be making a jest of the matter,” Gia smoothly assures him.

“Excellent,” the man replies and gives me a nod. “Let me get those keys, Mr. Wade and . . . Mrs. Wade?”

“Not ‘Mrs.’ yet,” I say, “but I’m working on remedying that.”

We receive another smile and the man turns away to go to a small alcove and key some information into a computer.

Elbow on the counter, I face Gia, intending to compliment her, when she softly asks, “Won’t Meg know this place?”

“No. She knew far less about me than she thought she did. I bought this apartment under a holding company and we’re simply the newest renters.”

She tilts her head, studying me a moment. “You really never let her in until you were desperate to save Lara.”

“Amy,” I correct. “That’s who she’s become to me, because that’s who she had to become on her own.”

“But you stayed Chad?”

“I’ve been many people.”

“Who were you to Meg?”

“I dared to be Chad to Meg, but it didn’t matter, now, did it?” I ask, digging for that hole Jared may have found. “Meg knew who I was from the moment I met her, and she played the poor, desperate, beaten woman that day in the subway station.”

I watch her, looking for some flicker of unease, but I get more. “That’s how she got you?” She sounds shocked, appalled even. “She played desperate and beaten? No wonder you don’t trust me. That’s despicable.”

My relief is instant. I don’t know what Jared discovered, but if Gia’s acting, it’s an Oscar-winning performance, and I would be the first to give her the statue. “Do you expect less from anyone associated with Sheridan?”

“I thought he was a good man. I won’t lie about that—I did, Chad. I was completely fooled. I was a fool.”

Every bit of relief I’d felt is gone. The torment in her reads like a confession and an apology I don’t want to hear. “What are you saying?”

“Mr. Wade,” the attendant says, surprising us, “the real estate agent actually only just called when our office opened this morning. We changed the locks on the apartment, as is standard procedure, and the maintenance team is bringing me the keys. They’re on their way to the lobby now.”

“Understood, and more than acceptable,” I confirm, considering I’d woken the broker I use for several New York properties early this morning. “Our decision to take this property over another was rather sudden.”

“You’re welcome to go to the coffee shop off the lobby to wait, if you like, and I’ll find you.”

“We’ll do that,” I reply, wrapping my arm around Gia’s neck, and turning us to face Jared, who is standing in a corner, arms over his chest, legs wide as he watches the door.

Seeming to sense our approach, he glances up and meets us in the middle of the lobby. “We’re supposed to wait on the key in the coffee shop.”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones The Secret Life of Amy Bensen Romance